Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Wolverines’

That Other Detroit Team

October 22, 2012

1887 World Chammpion Detroit Wolverines

I wanted to comment on the team playoff history of the National League representative to this season’s World Series but the Cardinals and Giants are making it exceedingly difficult for me to do so. They are, however, having a heck of a series. So I’ve decided to write about Detroit baseball before the Tigers.

In 1881 Major League baseball came to Detroit. The Wolverines played in the National League and were reasonably good for much of their history. They finished fourth and fifth in 1881 and 1882, then slid back from 1883 through 1885 never finishing higher than sixth. It was too much for the owner.

In 1886 he went out and bought a team (George Steinbrenner would be pleased). What he did was to lure away a number of the stars of the era by offering big salaries (for the era) and a multi-year contract. In doing so he put together one of the better teams of the 19th Century. Although these names may be meaningless to you, in the 1880s they were household names among baseball fans. There was Hall of  Famer Dan Brouthers at first, Fred Dunlap and Jack Rowe up the middle of the infield, and Deacon White (who should be in the Hall of Fame) at third. The outfield consisted of Hardy Richardson (a borderline HoF candidate) and Hall of Famers Sam Thompson and Ned Hanlon (although Hanlon is in the Hall as a manager). Charlie Bennett (who later had the Detroit stadium named for him) was the catcher and the mainstays of the staff were Lady Baldwin and Pretzels Getzien (God, they don’t make nicknames like they used to).

They finished second in 1886, 2.5 games behind Chicago, then roared to a pennant in 1887 with Charlie Ganzel replacing Bennett as the primary catcher. There was a postseason series in the 1880s (a sort of primitive World Series) played between the National League champion (Detroit) and the winner of the American Association (St. Louis Browns–now the Cardinals). The teams were allowed to pick the number of games in the postseason and the two teams settled on an all-time high of 15 games with all 15 being played regardless of who got to 8 first. Detroit won 10 games and brought the first World’s Championship to the city.

It was a short-lived triumph. You see the team was expensive to maintain and no matter how well they did, they just couldn’t turn a profit. With Dunlap going to Pittsburgh (Richardson replaced him at second), White turning 40, and Thompson having a down year they finished 5th. It was too much and the team folded at the end of the season. It was the last Major League team in Detroit until the Tigers were formed in 1901.

So Detroit has a long history of Major League play. Not just the Tigers have been successful. The team that came before had one great run. Thought you ought to know.

George Didn’t Start It

March 21, 2010

One of the great things about baseball is that no matter what it is you see, the odds are overwhelming it’s been done before. I remember when George Steinbrenner got control of the Yankees and free agency hit he started buying up talent. A bunch of people complained that he was trying to buy a pennant and wasn’t that just horrible. Well, maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t. What it for sure wasn’t was brand new. Frederick Stearns had done it before.

Frederick Kimball Stearns was born in Buffalo, NY in 1854, graduated from the University of Michigan, and took over his father’s hugely successful pharmaceutical business in Detroit. He loved athletics and was instrumental in the local Amateur Athletics Union. But for our purposes, he owned the Detroit Wolverines, a National League team.

The Wolverines were formed in 1881. They were not overly successful finnishing fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth (last) between their founding and 1884. In 1885 Stearns bough the team and immediately began spending money on trying to improve the team. In 1885 they rose to sixth. Then Stearns really began to lay out the cash. In 1886 they rose to second and won the NL pennant in 1887.

So what did Stearns do? Well, frankly, he bought a pennant. He dumped most of his 1885 team and went with a group of players that were stars of the era.  From the last place 1884 team Charlie Bennent, a catcher; Ned Hanlon (a Hall of Fame manager), the center fielder; and pitchers Stump Weidman and Charlie Getzein remained. In 1885 he picked up right fielder and Hall of Famer Sam Thompson along with pitcher Lady Baldwin. The next year left fielder Hardy Richardson, and the entire infield (from first around to third) Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers, Fred Dunlap, Jack Rowe, and Deacon White were on board and Charlie Ganzel was giving Bennett a second catcher that could ease the burden behind the plate. For the era it included some of the most important players in either league: White, Rowe, Brouthers, Richardson, and Thompson.

The Wolverines rolled to the pennant winning by 3.5 games. Thompson won both the batting and RBI titles (.372 and 166) and led the league in hits with 203. Brouthers led the league in runs with 153 and in doubles with 36. The team was first in hitting at .299, slugging at .434, and had 818 RBIs to also lead the league. In fact it led in all major offensive categories except home runs, finishing second to Chicago.

In the post season series of 15 games, Detroit beat the American Association’s St. Louis Browns 10 games to 5. They clinched the series in game 11, but the rules of the day required the entire series to be played. They split the final four. Thompson, Rowe, and Bennett had a great series and both Getzein and Baldwin picked up four wins.

It shold have been a great season for Detroit, but it turned into a disaster. Stearns was putting out a lot more money than he had. The rules for gate receipts were changed during the season to deprive the team of needed revenue and Stearns and the Wolverines couldn’t maintain the pace. From a share of the gate receipts as was normal, the new rule limited the visiting team to $125 per game. It was aimed directly at Detroit and its payroll.

With massive debts and discontented players, Detroit fell to fifth in 1888. Out of money and luck, Stearns disbanded the team at the end of the season, and sold the players to other teams for $45,000 (a whole lot of money in 1888). Detroit would not see Major League baseball again until 1901 when the American League put the Tigers there.

Stearns lived to see the Tigers and to watch them in three World Series. His Wolverines had better luck the the postseason. The Tigers lost all three World Series’ Stearns saw. He died in 1924 at age 70.

The First Postseason Series’

March 16, 2010

Between 1882 and 1891 Major League Baseball comprised two leagues (actually in 1884 and 1890 there were three), the National League and the American Association. For seven of those years the leagues existed in an uneasy and unequal truce, the National League being the dominant partner. They did agree that their pennant winners probably ought to meet up at the end of the season to determine who was the true champion of the big leagues. They were the first version of the modern World Series, although sometimes it’s tough to tell.

These series of games were in many ways more akin to exhibitions. The two teams would meet for a specified number of games, the number varied from 3 to 15, and the team winning the most was declared the winner. One of the problems was that the teams were supposed to play all the games (although that didn’t always happen) even after it became clear which was going to win the most games. The big 15 game series ended 10-5, although eight wins was enough to determine a winner. The three games series went three, although the same team won all three. That made the latter games frequently unimportant, and this effected both the quality of play and attendance greatly. The quality of play was universally panned. It was alleged that players weren’t playing to the best of their ability since the games were postseason and the money they were getting was nothing special.  Some teams had players skip the series altogether. Finally, many of the games were road games for both teams. This was supposed to allow for more fans to see the postseason games, but tended to depress the gate when the local fans had no rooting interest in either team. So it certainly didn’t make for the spectacle and excitement we know today. Having said that, some of them could be interesting, some exciting, some almost silly. Here’s a short recap of each with the National League team listed first.

1884–Providence vs. New York (3 games). Charles Radbourne, winner of 59 games (or 60 depending on your definition of “win”) shut down New York by pitching three complete games in two days and giving up no earned runs. Although Providence took the first two games to clinch the series, game three was played anyway on the afternoon of game two. It was Providence’s only series appearance. All three games were played in New York.

1885–Chicago vs.St. Louis (7 games). One of the most controversial series. Game one was a tie, then game two was declared a forfeit with Chicago (now the Cubs, but then the White Stockings) winning 5-4. The next four games were split and the two teams agreed to count the seventh game as the decisive game (ignoring the first two games). St. Louis won 13-4. Games were played in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to go along with St. Louis and Chicago.

1886–Chicago vs. St. Louis (7 games). This series is the one that most closely resembles a modern World Series. Among other things they played three games in each city.  Chicago and St. Louis split the first four games, then St. Louis won the next two, making the seventh game unnecessary. For a change, they didn’t play it.

1887–Detroit vs. St. Louis (15 games). Having seen sense prevail in 1886, the leages returned to silliness in 1887.  The series saw games played in not just St. Louis and Detroit, but also in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Chicago, and Baltimore.  Detroit won it’s eighth game, and the series, in game 11, but the final four games were played anyway. For what it’s worth, the teams split them.

1888–New York vs. St. Louis (10 games). With games in Brooklyn and Philadelphia to go along with home games in each city, the series was scheduled for an even number of games. That was the idea of the St. Louis owner (he ran a brewery and I’m not going to speculate on how sober he was when he proposed an even number of games). New York won five of the first six, then took game eight to wrap up the series. Giants pitcher Tim Keefe won four of the games to tie the record for a single postseason series (Three pitchers in the 15 game series each won four). 

1889–New York vs. Brooklyn (11 games). Another series that stopped when one team got to six wins. New York repeated as champions six games to three.  This time Cannonball Crane won four games for New York.

1890–Brooklyn vs. Louisville (7 games). The last 19th Century World Series between the National League and the American Association. Brooklyn (the team that is now the Los Angeles Dodgers) jumped to the National League and won a watered down championship. The Player’s League joined to create a third league, but was frozen out of the postseason.  Brooklyn became the first team to participate in consecutive postseasons for different leagues. All games were played in Brooklyn and Louisville.  Game three was a tie and the teams split the other six. Because of the late date (October 28 for game seven) and the weather, the teams agreed to play a game at the beginning of the next season to determine the season champion. Things changed during the offseason when the Player’s League collapsed. The NL and the AA split and the series was never completed. 

Following the 1890 season the two leagues went their separate ways, as mentoned above. The American Association collapsed after the 1891 race concluded (it got a lot of help from the NL, but that’s also a story for another time). There were other attempts to create a postseason after 1890. None were successful until 1903 ushered in the first modern World Series.